The Four Amigas

OK, I know. You are thinking I have that title wrong, it’s Three Amigos, right? (The movie with Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short)

Well that was a funny movie but no, I mean Four Amigas, the Mexican chickas who adopted Blue Bear for a day of Taxco adventure.

Four Amigas, MontetaxcoBeing a gringa, with a poor command of the Spanish language, it can get rather lonely at times. One might be surrounded by people, talking, laughing, and having a good time, but you are all alone because you do not understand what anyone is saying. AND because they think you do not know the language, no one makes much of an attempt to speak to you other than to kiss you on the cheek and ask, “Como esta?” (How are you?) After the mutual “Biens,” they do not know what else to say, and since you do not have enough Spanish to ask a question that would start a conversation, which you probably wouldn’t understand much of anyway, that usually puts an end to the interaction.

So imagine how pleased I was to be invited to join my friend, Vanessa, and mutual friends from Chilpancingo (all of whom speak English) on an afternoon on the town. Just what I needed – eye candy views from the top of town and ear candy — English conversation!

Though I am nearly twice their age (it’s the blue that keeps me looking young), we had a great time laughing and joking and just enjoying being together.

Thanks for a great day amigas!

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Down on the Farm

As I have mentioned, life with my grandchildren is a whirlwind of activity. In addition to the Children’s Museum, library, trampoline and bouncy house places, parks, playgrounds, and the beach, there are butterfly parades at the local Audubon Society and trips to “the farm.”

Agricultural tourism is BIG in Maine. Every place, small or large, seems to have a special event, view, tour, or self-guided option. Thus we found ourselves at Pineland Farms, not once but twice in one week.

Pineland Farms, New Gloucester, MainePineland Farms, a large working farm in New Gloucester, Maine, a community nestled among the rolling hills a little outside Portland, offers the public a chance to discover, learn, and explore rural life.

Though the farm is open for self-guided tours any day, Friday mornings gives children and their parents (grandparents) an opportunity to collect eggs in the hen house, milk a cow, see a baby calf, or hoe the garden or sample its goodness (in season), all under the guidance and tutelage of the farm educators. Among other things, children are fascinated to learn where milk comes from (when they squeeze the teat) and having a big animal gently take hay from their outstretched hand.

The day we went a new born calf was a popular attraction.

Hours old calf, Pineland Farms, New Gloucester, MaineAfter tromping through the barns and around the farm, you’ll be hungry so visit The Market and cafe in the Welcome Center, where you can enjoy a farm fresh lunch or take home some farm fresh goodness (fresh baked bread, honey, local jams and jellies, maple syrup, cheese, etc.) many of which are made at or from ingredients grown on the farm. If open, you can visit the creamery and see how cheese is made.

Equestrian Center, Pineland Farms, New Gloucester, MaineOn the lovely, winding way back to Portland,the equestrian center is open for visitors to tour the stalls and see the horses or watch riders put their mounts through their paces. Wander across the street and and you’ll find a flock of sheep.

If you have any energy left over (or plan another trip), nature trails offer opportunities to watch for birds, fox and other forest creatures, or just enjoy the babbling brook, fields, ponds, and forests as you walk. Trails are open year round  for hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. Fish in the pond in warm weather or go ice skating or take a long run down the sledding hill (bring your sled) in winter.

We returned to the farm again on Saturday for the annual Sheep Shearing Festival where we watched sheep being sheared the old fashioned way, by hand, and using those new-fangled clippers. Australian shepherds herded a small flock all to the tune of whistles and prompts by their shepherd. For young and old alike, it was fascinating to watch the dogs in action.

In addition to the working farm demonstrations, there were crafters available to let help you experience carding wool and spinning it into yarn and making a sheep “doll” by using needles to felt the raw wool into the appropriate shape, then take it home with you. You could purchase hand woven wool socks, hats, scarves, and mittens (not unwelcome on this blustery spring day), hold and pet a rabbit, and for the little ones “shear” their own shaving cream sheep, along with other craft activities.

Once again, a farm fresh lunch at The Market and cafe was welcome before we all headed home exhausted, yet content from our day in the country fresh air.

More about Pineland Farms: The site of a former “School for the Mentally Incompetent,” the old administration building and dormitories offer a natural setting for conferences. And if you like, you can stay in one of several original farm houses on the property.

The Springs of Buena Vista

Near El Ocotito is the town of Buena Vista San Juan or something like that. There are a lot of Buena Vistas in Mexico so most have a saint’s name attached but since that part is never used locally, if you are a visitor and especially a gringo like me, you are never quite sure.

Just outside of town is a spring that bubbles up out of the ground. As usual this “miracle” has been marked with a cross so that the blessing of water never dries up. A small catch basin holds enough for locals to come and collect the cold, clear water for drinking immediately or to carry home for later.

The rest of the water, flows under the rock wall of the basin and along a natural channel until it is corralled in a large catch basin or pool before it cascades over the edge and follows a natural channel again.

This larger pool is both the water supply for the town AND the local swimming hole. For a small fee, which goes to support the town, you can enter the grounds and picnic, swim, hunt crayfish, play in the water, or simply enjoy the surroundings and the sun setting behind the mountains.

A local  family who live adjacent to this unique natural water source, take the admission fees and run a concession selling roasted corn, snacks, drinks, and bathroom visits in exchange for free water and all the swimming they might like. Like the natives in Florida, they probably think the people who come here to swim in the winter are crazy, but they are happy to take their money.

Wet and cold at the springs of Buena Vista, MexicoShivering but still smiling, just a few of the crazy ones.

The River

One of the reasons that Tehuacalco was built on top of the mountain is because of the river that flows around the bottom. Afterall, what self-respecting god of water would bless a place without water?!!!

The river, with its tumbling rocks, quiet pools, and water slides, is a sort of natural water park. The tumbled rocks in the stream bed, above and below a relatively quiet pool at the base of a large rock mass, attest to the power of the water during the rainy season.

This being the dry season however, the water runs quickly but not dangerously over the rocks and fills the pool to a depth of about 4 feet. Large flat rocks offer a place for sitting, sunning, or sliding into the pool. The tumbled rocks offer a place to sit and listen to the music of the water as it tumbles, babbles and gurgles along its journey to the sea.

This is the tame side. On the other side of the road, the river drops over the large boulders forming small pools to splash in and many opportunities for the more adventurous folks to slip and slide your way down river.

People with property on both sides of the road are capitalizing on their prime location by offering a place to park, food, and refreshments, tables and chairs for picnics, and easy access, even stairs, to the water. Chickens, ducks, and dogs come to clean up any food that is spilled or left behind by visitors. This day, you could even buy a puppy.

Playing in the river at the base of Tehaucalco, MexicoThough the water here did not elicit any active diving or water ball activities, the youngsters especially had a great time. As the sun began to set and the air became cool though, it was time to return to nearby Ocotito.

The Ruins – Tehuacalco

Not too far west of Ocotito is an archeological site, the ruins of an ancient indigenous people, known locally as “The Ruins.” Tehuacalco, or sacred place of water, was discovered only recently and opened in 2008.The site interprets a center of government and worship, which ruled over a vast area roughly covering all of Guerrero state, and cities to the north, to the Pacific coast, and all the way to Jalapa in the southeast on the Atlantic.

It has a modern interpretive museum and bi-lingual (Spanish and English) signage, though as part of a group of 38 Spanish speaking friends, ranging in age from 3 on up, I had little chance to read the signs.

Tehuacalco archeological site, MexicoSince the ruins were discovered buried pretty much intact, rather than torn apart and the stones scattered, it appears that this site was abandoned by the people (for some unknown reason) rather than discovered by the Spaniards. Its location, high on a remote mountain, and a lack of silver or gold, may have played a role in that outcome.

One of the four points (directional mountains, Tehuacalco archeological site, MexicoThe people who lived here, worshiped the god of rain and water (essencial to life) and chose this location because of the abundance of water. They built a high temple, which faced the four points (or directions), where on each season’s solstice, the sun came up directly over one of four neighboring mountains. (This indicates to me that they may have worshipped the sun as well, though they could have just been marking the seasons.)

The building that housed their gods is gone now; all that remains is the temple mount. Below the temple is the government mount with some remaining ruins, several stellas (stone markers) which marked the passing of time (days, hours, and seasons), and the ball court.

Similar to other ball courts in Mexico and the Americas, this game, which was played by just two people, consisted of the players batting around a 5 kilo (about 11 pound) ball, made from a local tree trunk, using only their legs or shoulders (sort of like soccer or football if you come from these parts.) The object was to get the ball into a small opening in the wall at center court.

The ball goes here, Tehuacalco archeological site, MexicoThough the game was likely played every day, once a year, the two best players were selected to play to the death, literally. All the citizens would come to watch the match, standing above the court in the grassy area, one side rooting for each player.

The winner of the match was sacrificed to the gods (yes, I said winner), while the loser was ejected  from the society to fend for himself amidst wild animals and poisonous snakes —  live or die, never to return.

On the day of sacrifice, a procession moved along the sacred pathway and up the stairs and steep incline to the temple mount. Each level of elevation marking one step (level) closer to the gods. Only the priests, kings, and sacrificial victims were allowed to climb the stairway to the gods. The average person stood in a field below the temple and watched the spectacle as braziers lit up the night sky and shadowy human forms performed rituals and dances culminating in the sacrifice of the victim and his beating heart being offered to the gods.

I learned a couple of interesting things visiting this ancient site:

Ancient glyph, Tehuacalco archeological site, Mexico 1) What I have always thought (and been told) was a decorative way of building rock walls using small stones between the larger rocks, turns out to have a practical reason (though lost to most Mexicans today.) The small stones allowed for more movement in the wall during seismic events (earthquakes) and thus the walls were less likely to come tumbling down.

2) The interpreter told us that the original pozole, a special soup traditionally eaten on Thursdays, Sundays, and holy days in this area, was made using the arms and legs of the sacrificial offering. Each bowl was topped with a small piece of the sacrificial victim’s meat, which was supposed to bring strength and protection for the coming year to those who ate it. As the guide said, some of our customs today, have their origins in these pagan peoples.

After a hot, sweltering, but very interesting afternoon we headed down the mountain to cool off in the river. But that is another story.

Hasta luego (until later),

Cuidado

That is “Be careful” in Spanish.

One thing I am not fond of about Mexico is the drivers. The pedestrian does NOT have the right of way here. Oh, sure, a taxi or combi might stop and signal for the gringo to cross a busy street but that does not prevent someone behind from speeding around him and hitting you.

With all the processions clogging the streets these past two weeks and all the vacacionistas in town, it has been particularly peligroso on the streets. Cars, taxis, and motor bikes are more plentiful than usual and all are in a hurry to get somewhere, so pedestrian, be aware.

You might start crossing the street without a car in sight but before you reach the other side, a car comes zooming up and passes mere inches behind you. That is scary! What is even worse is when the driver misjudges or you slow just a bit to negotiate a pothole or curb and well….

I had a taxi hit my bag once and a few of those “give me a little space” moments but that is nothing compared to a friend who is currently laid up because a car hit his foot or the two friends of friends we lost this week because of a pedestrian/car accident.

Time and unforeseen occurrence may befall us all, however, it is always wise to be careful out there.

Motorbikes, Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

A Walk in the Country – El Ocotito, Mexico

When visiting El Ocotito recently, my hostess wanted to take me for a walk (ir de pie) to a place outside of town where there was a lake. It was hot but carrying water and my parasol (not to be confused with my paragua, which are one and the same unless it is raining) I was up for the walk. Dipping my toes in a lake sounded MAHvelous!!!

So we walked a few blocks to where the cement road ended and a dirt road began.

Not the end of the world but you can see it from here, Ocotito, MexcioWe walked through a tunnel under the autopista to Acapulco, which was filled with jumbled  rocks and ruts, and came out the other side to what looked like a double walking path.

tunnel entrance, El Ocotito, MexicoWhile inside the tunnel, which was treacherous on foot, a car came bouncing along, scraping bottom every so often. Then a little further down the path, a walker in a hurry to get somewhere passed us by. Then we were met by a man on horseback, people with wheelbarrows and machetes, people on bicycles, and people herding livestock. Apparently this was a major thoroughfare from one town to another!

Along the way we discovered a horse and foal in the field, a tamarind tree ripe for harvesting, people making adobe bricks which were drying in the sun, a young man harvesting sand from the river bottom, escaping  goats, a spooked colt, and more. Take a peek below.

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After we had walked a good ways, we came to an area that had a little water covering the road. We sat under a tree, drank water and rested, letting the breeze refresh us. When we arose, it was determined that we needed to return to the house.

But what about the lake? Only after a long hot trek home did I find out that near the muddy spot on the road was where the lake used to be. It dried up and only the wet trickle that muddies the road and trickles into the neighboring field remains.

As with many things Mexican, things are not always as they at first seem.

 

Cerro de Indio – El Ocotito

Mexicans have a great imagination, so many mountain tops and landmarks have some sort of story attached to them, like the legend of Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl, the volcanoes outside Mexico City, or the singing rocks at Teloloapan, or even just fanciful monikers like sombrero mountain, so named because it looks like a sombrero.

Sombrero Mountain near Tetipac, Mexico

Sombrero Mountain near Tetipac, Mexico

El Ocotito is no exception. Dominating the landscape above town is Cerro de Indio (Indian Hill.)

If you look at the photos of this mountain, the resemblance to an indigenous warrior lying on his back is unmistakeable — right down to the stripes of “war paint” on his cheek.

Some say that viewed from another angle you can also see a woman’s profile in the mountain behind him (facing the opposite direction.) Do you see her?

Cerro de Indio, El Ocotito, MexicoI am sure there is another Romeo and Juliet type story here as well but, if so, no one was telling me.

Do you have some landmark near where you live that has a story? Do tell.

Speaking of legends and stories, here is an absolutely striking photo of Popocatepetl “remembering Iztaccihuatl.”

Ahorita now

I love it when my readers can shed some light on the meaning of some of the things I see and hear in a foreign place.

Sun"s rays streaming through the clouds, Taxco de Alarcon, MexcioMy mystery word has been demystified! It is ahorita.

Now that I see the root word ahora (now) it makes perfect sense. Since “ita” means little, ahorita actually means in a little while.

As my lovely and very gifted daughter, who lived in Peru for a time, explained, it could mean, now, in a moment, etc. or in the case of an impatient patient at the doctor’s office, in a little while, which may stretch to 10 or 20 minutes or more. It is used in a similar manner as our saying right now (which also makes no sense taken literally.)

I have gathered from friends here that it could also be used as a blow off statement, with a meaning similar to “I’ll get around to it,” which is where the “perhaps, sometime” comes in.

English words and expressions can also create confusion in non-native speakers. She told me about a Peruvian friend who was a hostess in a restaurant and couldn’t figure out why people reacted strangely when she greeted incoming patrons with “Good night.” Afterall, night and evening mean the same thing, no?

Sometimes I think it would be nice to go back to the time before the Tower of Babel, when everyone spoke just one language. But then again, I’m not too fond of sackcloth and I would really miss my computer. Better to look forward to the whole world having one language in the future. In the meantime, I will keep studying my Spanish.

Pyramid of Sun - TeotihuacancanDo you think the builders of the ancient temples of the Aztecs and Mayans, like this Temple of the Sun at Teotihuacan, outside Mexico City, are related to those in Mesopotamia who built the Tower of Babel and other ziggurats?

The Singing Rocks of Teloloapan

As the sun lay low on the horizon, we took a little side trip to a massive uplifting of gigantic stones that tower above the city. Some of the rocks in this area are known to “sing,” emitting a deep, resonant musical tone, like a large bell, when struck with another rock.

Singing Rocks, Parque de Campana, Teloloapan, MexicoThe locals have been coming here for centuries to make the rocks sing, and as with many such places of uniqueness, a legend has grown up to explain the phenomenon. Like Romeo and Juliette and so many other legends, this too has an element of unrequited love.

According to one version of the Aztec legend, on the death of King Azteca Ahuitzol, in order for his son, Tecampa , to succeed him, he had to conquer more land and bring more people into the empire. Tecampa conquered many peoples but when he came to Mexicapan, the chief, Texol, and his people battled with Tecampa for nearly a month.

Though Tecampa did not capture the city, he did succeed in capturing the springs that were the only water source, thus the people of Mexicapan were dying of thirst. Texol’s daughter, princess Na, who was always at his side, even in battle, feeling that the life of the warriors was more important than her own, volunteered to go and get water for the people, even at the cost her life.

With her maidens to accompany her, she set off for the pile of rocks where the  springs were located. When she arrived, she found a strong, young warrior, the king of the Aztecs, “contemplating the infinite.” He fell instantly in love with the beautiful princess, and granted her request for water for her people under the condition that she return the next day at sunrise where he would give her not water, but his heart.

She returned the next day and Tecampa asked her to go with him to the center of his empire near the mountain of Toluca, where together they would make his people happy.

But King Texol followed his daughter that day, and upon seeing her in the arms of his mortal enemy, his heart was broken and he angrily uttered a curse that the two young lovers be turned to stone. Immediately the two bodies were merged into one large stone, one seemingly holding the other, forever. Now when a stone is touched to the rock, the young lovers sing with tenderness.

Now named Parque de Tecampana, what used to be just a local attraction, where you scrambled up the mountainside on a dirt path to climb the rocks and make your own music, the city has decided to create a real tourist attraction, with gates, paved paths, a playground, an amphitheater, bathrooms, and even exercise area at the top (though really, just climbing the hill is exercise enough!)

 

Main Entrance, Parque de Tecampana, Teloloapan, MexicoLove this accessible entrance, don’t you? There is no way you could push a wheelchair up this ramp, nor the pathway above; I don’t think even my friend Shelley’s electric scooter would make it. But if you ask, the locals, they will direct you to a back entrance that is a fright to drive but takes you to a much more level path to the singing rocks.

Amphitheater, Parque de Campana, Teloloapan, MexicoAmidst all this “beautiful,” new construction, is an old shack. It seems that the land is owned by a young man whose family has lived there for generations. The city wanted to buy the land to make it into an official park, but he refused — it was his ancestral home. Finally they made him an offer he could not refuse. Let them improve the area into a park and they will build him a better home and let him be the caretaker. A win-win — he and his ancestors, who may just be related to Tecampa and Princess Na, can continue to make the rocks sing, at least for his lifetime.

FYI — I did some research on what might make the rocks sing and came across an article by someone with some scientific background that determined that it is a combination of the type of rock, crystalline diabase, and the fact that the ringing rocks are supported on points of other rocks thus allowing them to ring rather than thud. If you want more information on ringing rocks, which occur in various places around the world, see this article about Ringing Rocks Park, in Pennsylvania. Or follow this link to hear them ring. (They kind of sound like the bell the trash collectors ring in Mexico.)